Tropical Fish Keeping – Learn How To Keep A Fish Tank Clean

Learning how to keep a fish tank clean is not difficult, but you need to do it on a regular basis in order to stop algae and other contaminants from building up in your aquarium and to keep your fish healthy and happy.

This article explains what tropical fish keeping enthusiasts need to do to keep a glass freshwater community aquarium clean.

The first thing you will need is a calendar to mark off which day of the month you plan on cleaning your tank, or tanks.  A 30 day cycle is sufficient for most tropical fish but some delicate, hard to keep species require more attention. Set up a “doable” schedule and stick to it.

On the day selected, get your “cleaning supplies” ready. I use this term lightly because there are very few supplies needed. Below is a short list of suggested items:

  • Clean 5 gallon plastic bucket
  • Siphon type gravel cleaner|
  • Magnetic aquarium glass cleaner
  • Replacement mechanical and chemical filter media (for outside filter).
  • Vinegar based glass cleaning solution or Aquarium-safe glass cleaner for the outside glass.
  • Amquel, Nova Aqua, or some other dechlorinator, denitrator, etc.

Clean the front and sides of the aquarium with the Magnetic aquarium glass cleaner.

Run it along the bottom of the glass barely into the substrate, scrubbing as necessary to remove unwanted algae that is clinging to the aquarium. Run the magnet from the outside of the tank from the bottom to the very top in long sweeps. Use the same technique on the sides of the tank. Most tropical fish keeping enthusiasts leave algae on the back of the tank for Plecostomus, Loaches, etc. to graze on.

Use a partially dull razor blade to remove difficult patches of residue from the glass. Some fish keepers use rubber gloves when cleaning the inside of the tank but it is not necessary. Just be sure that no detergents or chemicals get into the tank.

Next, decide how much water you are going to change out from your aquarium.

This depends on what type fish you are keeping and what schedule you are trying to maintain. Some Plecostomus species and Loaches need a weekly 10 to 30% water change to keep them healthy in a specialty tank, and other more hardy species only require a 25% to 50% water change each month.

If your fish are ill and receiving medication, more frequent water changes will obviously be needed.

When removing water from the aquarium you can clean the gravel or sand substrate at the same time.

Start the siphon into a clean 5 gallon plastic bucket and push the gravel vacuum into the gravel, perpendicular to the bottom. Excess food, fish waste, and other nasty debris will be sucked into the vacuum and out to the pickup bucket. When the water in the tube looks clear, lift and move it to the next spot until the entire bottom is cleaned.

Pinch the small plastic tube and lift the wide end from the tank to stop the siphon when your bucket gets almost full.  Re-start the siphon by placing the gravel cleaner into the gravel and sucking on the small tube until the water starts coming over the rim of the tank.

Be careful not to suck up any slow moving or burrowing fish like loaches, eels, etc.

If you have sand substrate, remove the wide end and use the hose part of the siphon to remove debris from the top of the sand. After starting the siphon, hold the tube about an inch from the surface of the sand so as not to disturb the sand. When the surface looks clean, run your fingers or a wide plastic hair comb through the sand to bring up any buried debris that could be trapped under shifting sand. The nasty stuff should float up above the sand where it can easily be siphoned off.

Clean off surface debris and excess algae that builds up on rocks, driftwood, decorations, etc. and make that part of your water change program.

Excess algae is normally caused by too much light and too many nutrients in the water. Routine water changes, a timer on your lighting and algae eating fish will keep everything in balance however, when necessary you can remove excess algae with an algae pad or fresh tooth brush washed with hot water.

Decorations that have too great a buildup of algae can be removed and soaked in a 10% bleach solution for 10 to 15 minutes max. Remove them from the solution, pour scalding water over them and allow them to thoroughly air dry before putting them back into the tank. DO NOT use this procedure on bogwood or driftwood.

Refill your tank to the correct level.

When you have removed the correct amount of water from the tank, replace it with fresh, treated water at the same temperature of the aquarium that it was taken from. Use a good thermometer to keep it as close as possible to the tank’s temperature, avoid the “stick on” type thermometers.

Since most people are probably using tap water to make water changes; take a water sample to your local aquarium shop and have it tested for chlorine, chloramine, heavy metals, nitrates, nitrites, and other toxins that could “do in” your fish. Testing will give you a good idea of how pure the water is coming out of your tap and what you need to do to condition it for your aquarium.

Products like Amquel and NovaAqua will generally do a good job on most trace pollutants.

Some tropical fish keeping enthusiasts use bottled spring water, reverse osmosis units or a bank of chemical filters to further purify tap water before using it in their aquariums.  Test each brand of bottled spring water before using it.  They are not all equal!

Next, clean the exterior of the aquarium.

Wipe down the outside of the tank, the glass top, hood, lights, and outside of the filters with water taken from the tank or if needed, a mile solution of white vinegar and tank water.

Lastly, change out the filter cartridge about once a month.

The carbon inside the filter cartridge insert loses efficiency and can become detrimental to fish.

If you have an under gravel filter in your aquarium, changing both filter cartridges at the same time is not a problem; however, if you are using sand as a substrate, change out only one filter cartridge during each water change and rotate them.

If your tank has been kept clean and is “in balance” the filter cartridges can be rinsed off weekly using tank water and replaced when they become excessively dirty. Using tank water preserves the beneficial bacteria growing on the filter cartridges.

Learning how to keep a fish tank clean is easy, uncomplicated, and becomes easier still when done on a regular schedule.

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